If you tuned into ESPN’s The Book of Manning, regardless of whether or not you even like football, undoubtedly you learned just a little about what makes the Manning family such a special one.
Director Rory Karpf’s film chronicles the eventful life of a young Archie Manning from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. However, Archie’s success of the football field isn’t the big takeaway from the project. Rather, it’s really about the life lessons he experienced along the way that turned him into the father he always knew he wanted to be one day.
As you’ll see, Archie Manning has always placed fatherhood above anything else in his life.
The football part, it was just a game he enjoyed playing.
Raised in the small town of Drew, MS with his mother and father, Archie helped with his father’s cotton business and pursued the sports of baseball and football as a child. He really did what any young kid in the south would have done at the time, helped his father and played sports.
He and his father shared the same interest in sports, but the elder Manning stayed busy with work most of the time to provide for his family. Consequently, Archie didn’t get to spend quite as much time with his dad as he would have hoped, as a child or as an adult.
Having always admired the Ole Miss Rebels and legendary Rebel and New York Giants QB Charlie Conerly, the tall, skinny Mississippi kid ultimately signed to play football for coach John Vaught in Oxford. In doing so, he passed on an opportunity to play professional baseball.
Archie quickly proved himself on the freshman squad at Ole Miss, and soon became the first sophomore to ever start at quarterback for the Rebels. He was good. He was real good, and the nation soon took notice.
A Defining Moment
Life was good for Archie and the sky seemed to be the limit, until the summer before his junior year at Ole Miss when he’d find his father Buddy’s lifeless body in his own home (suicide). It was a crushing blow. Providing much-needed support at the time was his eventual wife, Olivia, whom he’d met as a student in Oxford.
Committed to his family at an early age, Manning first felt it most appropriate to forget about football and return home to work and take care of his family. That was his plan, at least until his mother voiced her opinion. Wishing for her son to continue his education and follow his passion for football, she helped sway Archie to head back to Oxford for his junior year.
That he was ready and willing to hang up his cleats and pursuit of a college education to tend to his family back in Drew speaks volumes of his own upbringing. It’s those same selfless, humble, unassuming characteristics that would go on to make Manning the player and father he would soon become.
Nevertheless, he continued with his stellar play under coach Vaught over the next two season. Not only could Manning direct passes into traffic with razor precision, but he also proved to be quite elusive on his feet. At the time, such a talented dual-threat quarterback was a rare specimen.
As a result of his outstanding play in college, the New Orleans Saints would select Manning with the No. 2 pick in the 1971 NFL Draft. The Saints were struggling when he joined the team, but an upbeat Manning was going to make the very best of the opportunity he’d been afforded.
Year after year, game after game, Archie and the Saints struggled mightily. Nevertheless, Archie kept on getting back up after each hit, each loss and each day when most men in his shoes would have simply gotten angry or voiced his frustrations.
However, not Archie. He remained cool and collected. He gave it his all every time he suited up, but what happened on the field stayed on the field. Archie’s heart and soul was with his family.
Fatherhood First, Football Second
Just a couple of years into his NFL career, Archie and Olivia had their first child, Cooper.
Never forgetting how he lost time with his own father and always wanted to be a consistent figure in his children’s lives, Cooper became Archie’s pride and joy. Just two years later, Cooper would gain a little brother (Peyton). Despite the beating their dad took each Sunday escaping NFL defenses, Archie made sure to spend as much time as possible with Cooper and Peyton when he wasn’t on the field.
Then in 1981, along came the couple’s third and what would be their last child, young Eli.
When Cooper, Peyton and Eli came into Archie’s life, they immediately became the center of his world.
He always made the extra effort to take time out of his life to be with his boys, despite living the life of an NFL QB. The film shows multiples photos and clips of him tossing the pigskin with the boys, playing down on the ground with them and taking home videos himself as a proud young father.
Back on the field, No. 18 hung up his cleats in 1984, having endured 13 rugged years as an NFL QB. Manning’s cumulative record in the big leagues was 35-101-3, and he earned each and every one of those 31 victories. As tough as it was, he enjoyed it all despite never having played on a team with a winning record.
That says a lot Archie’s character as a man, right there.
Not only was he showing his kids what a real dad looks like, but perhaps unknowingly he was also showing his kids that you never give up on things when times are tough.
They Just Wanted to be Like Dad
Having never pushed or steered any of the boys into the game of football, naturally Cooper, Peyton and Eli always looked up to their football father. Whether they were wearing Ole Miss clothes, football jerseys or just hanging with dad around the field, the Manning boys had great admiration for their daddy.
In fact, they had the same type of relationship with their dad, as Archie had wanted with his own dad. Despite doing his best to spend time with Archie, business and eventually problems of everyday life never allowed Archie to spend the amount of time he yearned for with his own father.
Clearly with this on his mind over the years, Archie focused his life on his three boys.
Along the way, the boys began to stand out as high school football players at Isadore-Newman School in New Orleans, LA. Getting to play together on the same team at the same time, Cooper and Peyton developed a special bond as not just brothers, but true friends.
Cooper, a wide receiver, decided to follow in dad’s footsteps and play college ball at Ole Miss. Once again, things were going great for the Manning family until a spinal condition halted Cooper’s football career forever. It shook Cooper and his family hard, but in typical Manning fashion he handled the situation with as much grace as could be expected from a teenager.
After initial frustrations, he handled things with the same grace that he had grown up watching his father demonstrate in New Orleans. There was Archie’s impact again.
The Selfless Father
Little brother Peyton quickly made national headlines as one of the greatest high school quarterbacks to have ever picked up a football. Thanks to his high school achievements, Peyton was offered from just about every college program in the land.
Naturally, many may have assumed Peyton would just follow in dad’s footsteps and head to Oxford. However, Archie made it abundantly clear to his son that it was truly his decision. The strong-willed Peyton opted for a career with the Tennessee Volunteers, passing on the scholarship from Ole Miss.
Archie knew the heat he’d take from former teammates, Ole Miss alums, fans, etc., but that was the last thing that he ever thought about when being there to support Peyton. Like any good father, Archie just wanted to see his son happy in life. If Peyton was happy, then so was Archie.
To the nobody’s surprise, Peyton dominated in Knoxville, looking just like a Manning.
After his final season with the Vols, Peyton was drafted No. 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts. And unlike his dad’s pro career, Peyton would blossom in a winning organization in the pro ranks. Not only has Peyton become one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all-time, but he’s also a Super Bowl MVP.
Like his big brother, Eli quickly lit up the high school football fields of Louisiana. By the time he was a senior, he was one of the most sought after quarterbacks in the game.
Again being reassured by his dad that he was free to make his own decision and the one that felt right to him individually, the youngest Manning surprisingly made dad proud and decided to take his talents to Ole Miss.
Just like Peyton at Tennessee, Eli broke record after record at Ole Miss, many of them once owned by his old man. Moreover, during his senior season he took the Rebels to their first Cotton Bowl since 1962. In typical Manning fashion, he wasn’t pleased with just showing up, instead he directed Ole Miss to a 31-28 win over Oklahoma State in his college farewell.
During the NFL Draft that year, Archie received a great deal of criticism at the thought he was largely behind Eli’s move to demand the San Diego Chargers trade him to the New York Giants. A bold statement it was, but one in which once again a father had the best interests of his son in mind (making sure he signed with a team he could excel with during his career).
Today, nearly a decade after the draft day drama, Eli is a two-time Super Bowl champion and MVP.
As for the Chargers and their draft day QB Phillip Rivers, they have yet to even reach the Super Bowl over the same period. Kudos to a wise father and a son pair for ultimately making the right decision.
The Big Takeway
To those not very familiar with the Manning family or fond of any schools or teams where they’ve all put on uniforms, it’s easy to sit back and figure that they were always destined for football stardom.
However, that’s the furthest thing from the truth.
Having admired his own father growing up, despite not getting to spend as much time with him as he’d have liked, Archie’s experiences from birth to college helped form his character.
Most small town kids with dollar signs and stardom in their eyes could have quickly been derailed personally and professionally in the face of adversity.
Instead of turning to various vices to cope with tragedy as many young stars do today, Archie successfully internalized what was happening in each stage of his life. As great of a football player as he was, he always remembered what type of father he wanted to be to own kids.
From the day each of them was born, Cooper, Peyton and Eli became his everything in life. Today, they remain the same. Whether showing up in person to watch Peyton in Denver or Eli in New York or spend time with Cooper and his family in Oxford, the three boys will forever be his greatest treasure.
He yearned to give them what he never really had, as young kids, teenage kids, college kids and young adults. He showed them how a real father loves his kids unconditionally and finds time in a hectic schedule to simply hang out together. In the end, he became the father he always wanted to become.
Archie Manning was a great quarterback, but an even better father.
His own dad would be proud.